applying varnish with a brush

Wood Finishing Techniques: Tips for Achieving a Professional and Long-Lasting Finish

A finished wooden object possesses an undeniable allure, with its enhanced aesthetic appeal, durability against wear and tear, and the sense of pride it instills in its creator. That’s where good wood finishing techniques come in to play.

However, achieving a truly professional look goes beyond a simple coat of paint. It involves employing the correct methods and meticulous attention to detail. Furthermore, having a comprehensive understanding of the products and processes involved can be immensely beneficial.

applying varnish to wooden worktops

This article provides valuable wood finishing techniques and tips that will assist you in attaining a professional and long-lasting finish. By following these recommendations, your woodworking projects will exude a refined and polished appearance that stands the test of time.

To bestow a professional finish upon wood, it is essential to focus on the minutest details and utilize appropriate methods. Here are some invaluable tips for achieving an impeccable wood finish:

Learning your wood finishes

Most woods are quickly marked by everyday wear and tear, like scratches, dings, and dirt. Similarly, changes in humidity can cause wood to contract or swell.

Depending on the type of finish, it may either form a thin film on the wood’s surface or penetrate deeply into the wood, hardening there to protect it. Varnishes tend to form a protective layer, were oils and stain will penetrate the wood grains. Plus, the grain is highlighted when multiple coats are applied. This can highlight and accentuate the wood’s natural beauty. For example, if you are working on a busy kitchen table, use a suitable product for the best table top finishes.

Oil Based Wood Finishes

Wood has the ability to absorb oil-based penetrating coatings, which are a type of treatment for wood surfaces. These coatings offer several advantages over surface finishes. Firstly, they require less labor-intensive application. Additionally, they enhance the aesthetic appeal of the wood.

oiling wooden worktops

As the name suggests, deep penetrating wood treatments provide protection against common issues such as drying out, cracking, swelling, and decay. These treatments often involve the use of different types of oils, such as Tung, Linseed, Danish, Cedar, and more.

Surface Wood Finishes

Unlike penetrating wood finishes, surface wood finishes are applied to the external layer of the wood and create a durable, protective coating that does not penetrate into the wood.

Surface finishes are composed of different materials such as paint, polyurethane, and shellac. They offer extended protection and are particularly suitable for wood items that experience heavy use, such as outdoor furniture or frequently utilized kitchen islands.

Due to their enhanced durability, surface coatings are the preferred choice for furniture or objects subjected to high levels of activity or wear and tear.

Choose The Right Wood Finish

When it comes to selecting a wood finish, it’s tempting to grab the first one you come across at your local hardware store. However, taking the time to explore your options can make a significant difference.

Before making a decision, invest some time in understanding the different types of wood finishes available. Consider factors such as flammability, toxic fumes, and long-term environmental impact as additional considerations before making your choice. Here are a few things to look for:


Remember that a wood finish not only protects the wood but also has a significant impact on its visual appeal. If you prefer the natural look of wood, a water-based finish would be a great fit. On the other hand, painting or staining can completely transform the wood’s texture, offering a smoother appearance.

Ensure that you allow sufficient drying and curing time for the wood finish to fully set. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended drying duration.

Resistance and Durability

Applying a coat of varnish to your woodworking project is crucial for protecting the wood from everyday wear and tear. Wood finishes act as a physical barrier, shielding the wood from potential damage such as scratches, abrasions, and exposure to solvents.

Functional Simplicity

Consider the ease of use of the wood finish. This not only pertains to the product itself but also takes into account your own skills and capabilities. For example, some wood finishes can be applied using a brush, cloth, or sprayer, so choose one that aligns with your preferred application method.

Perform a Complete Stain Test

Don’t solely rely on the stain samples you find in the store. The final colour outcome can vary significantly depending on the type of wood used and the specific finishing process. To accurately test different finishes, it’s best to save project scraps and sand them down to match the same level as the rest of your project.

If you didn’t build the item you’re wood finishing, it’s wise to test the stain on a hidden part, such as the bottom of a table. For achieving the desired shade, conduct stain tests on these scrap pieces.

Remember that the colour of the wood will remain the same regardless of whether you leave the stain on for a short or long duration. To create a unique shade, you can experiment by combining different colours from the same manufacturer.

By personally conducting thorough stain tests, tailored to your specific project, you can ensure that the final color choice perfectly complements your woodwork and meets your expectations.

Sanding Curved Surfaces: Achieving the Perfect Finish

When it comes to sanding curved surfaces and areas that are inaccessible to electric sanders, hand sanding is the way to go. Mastering the art of proper sanding techniques is crucial to ensure a flawless result. Here’s a detailed guide to help you navigate through the process.

sanding wood
  1. Gather the Right Tools: To effectively sand curved surfaces, you’ll need a few essential tools. These include sanding blocks or pads with different levels of flexibility, sandpaper sheets with varying grits (ranging from coarse to fine), and possibly some specialized contour sanding tools designed specifically for curved surfaces.
  2. Prepare the Wood: Before applying paint, lacquer, or oil, it’s important to prepare the wood surface through proper sanding. This step ensures a smooth and even finish. Be sure to clean the surface thoroughly to remove any dust, dirt, or debris before sanding.
  3. Begin with Coarser Grits: Start the sanding process with a coarser grit sandpaper (such as 80 or 100 grit) to effectively remove any imperfections or roughness from the wood surface. Use your sanding block or pad to apply even pressure as you move it along the curves, following the natural contours of the wood.
  4. Progress to Finer Grits: As you work your way through the sanding process, gradually switch to finer grit sandpaper (such as 180 or 220 grit). This helps to smoothen the surface and eliminate any remaining scratches or marks left by the coarser grits. Again, ensure consistent pressure and follow the curves of the wood to maintain a uniform finish.
  5. Check for Smoothness: Periodically check the wood surface for smoothness by running your hand over it. This tactile assessment will help you identify any uneven areas or rough spots that may require further attention. If needed, repeat the sanding process with finer grits until the desired level of smoothness is achieved.

Remember to always sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid causing unnecessary damage or visible sanding marks.

Experiment with Wood Conditioner for Optimal Staining Results

When it comes to staining certain types of wood, you may encounter issues with uneven stain absorption, resulting in unsightly black spots. This phenomenon is particularly common in softwoods like birch, maple, pine, and cherry. Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help minimize this problem: using a wood conditioner.

Wood conditioners, when applied prior to staining, can significantly reduce the occurrence of uneven stain absorption. While it may not completely eliminate the issue, it provides a reliable way to improve the overall staining outcome. The conditioner acts as a protective layer, preventing excessive stain absorption, particularly on the end grain of the wood.

To take advantage of this technique, simply visit a local hardware store or paint retailer and acquire a quart-sized container of wood conditioner. These products are specifically designed to prepare the wood surface for staining, ensuring a more uniform and appealing result.

Use Proper Application Method

Applying the wood finish in the proper application method is a crucial step to achieving a professional and long-lasting finish. You can choose from. Use a brush, spray, or wipe to apply.


While sprayed-on finishes are convenient for their speed and ability to be applied in several thin layers, a decent spray gun setup and spray booth are typically only found in industrial settings.

applying varnish with spray gun

Although many finishers can be diluted for painting in such systems, specific finishes are only sold in aerosol cans; they offer some of the benefits of spraying but are more challenging to master and require different skills.


Most finishes are intended for brush application, which demands precision to provide an even coat without drooping or leak marks.

applying varnish with a brush

The application of a brushed finish is typically less labor-intensive than that of a wiped or sprayed one. Keep the pieces you’re touching horizontally, and be careful not to let the paint trickle down the borders as you work.

lint free cloth

Wipe-on oil finishes are a simple way to achieve a high-quality end product. The finish is applied to the wood with a soft cloth, worked in, and then removed. It takes more coats to provide the same coverage as a brush, but they dry slightly quicker.

applying varnish with lint free cloth

This type of oil finish doesn’t sag, drip, or collect as much dust as other drying methods. Some brush finishes are easily cleaned with a damp cloth.

Fix Wood Without Repainting

Restore the beauty of your woodwork without the need for expensive repainting. This method is both time and cost-effective. Instead of stripping the old finish, you can achieve great results by simply purchasing a matching wood stain from a hardware store.

For the best outcome, we recommend using a gel stain, although any type will work. Start your renovation project by washing the wood surfaces with soapy water. Afterward, rinse them thoroughly with clean water. To remove any dried paint splatters, delicately scrape them off using an aluminum putty knife.

Once the surface is completely dry, you can begin applying the wood stain. Dip a rag into the stain and gently rub it onto the wood. The stain will be most noticeable on bare areas and scratches, helping to even out the appearance of the wood. To further revitalize the aged wood, consider applying a thin layer of furniture wax a few days after the stain has dried.

Hide Defects

To conceal scratches on your furniture, a practical solution is to use felt-tip pens with long-lasting ink. You can find touch-up markers specifically designed for furniture in hardware shops and community centers. If you’re aiming for an exact match, consider purchasing markers from a painting supply store, as they offer a wider range of colors to choose from.

To achieve complete coverage, apply the ink directly onto the scratch and allow it to dry. Afterward, lightly stroke the tip of the marker across the area to spread out the shade and ensure a seamless appearance. This method effectively hides defects, making your furniture look refreshed and blemish-free.

Wood Finishing Techniques: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

When it comes to finishing wood, attention to detail is crucial. Achieving a polished and long-lasting result requires following a meticulous process. However, it’s equally important to be aware of what NOT to do. Here are five key things to avoid:

  1. Don’t Rely Solely on Label Information

Labels on wood finishes can be misleading due to the wide variety of genres and categories they fall under. To ensure you choose the right product for your project, thorough research is essential. Gain experience by purchasing different products in smaller tester sizes and experimenting on scrap wood before committing to a particular finish.

  1. Don’t Overlook the Option of Painting Wood

While trends may come and go, painting wooden objects remains a timeless and beautiful way to enhance their appearance. Don’t dismiss the idea of using paint as a finishing technique.

  1. Avoid Excessive Sanding

When working with previously finished wood and planning to stain or paint over it, stripping the existing finish is usually preferable to excessive sanding. Even when applying final touches to a new item, it’s best to minimize sanding as much as possible.

  1. Don’t Ignore Drying and Curing Times

Each type of finish has specific drying and hardening times. Rushing the process by applying the next coat before the previous one is fully dry can compromise the stability and overall quality of the finish. Patience is key to achieving a professional result.

  1. Don’t Neglect Proper Ventilation

Many wood finishing products emit fumes that can be hazardous if inhaled. It is crucial to work in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure. Consider using appropriate air ventilation systems, especially when working with oil-based finishes or applying finishes in enclosed spaces. Prioritizing proper ventilation ensures a safer working environment.


Becoming proficient in wood finishing techniques is akin to mastering an art form that can greatly enhance the visual appeal and durability of your projects. By following the tips provided, you can attain a professional and enduring finish.

It’s important to approach wood finishing with a patient mindset, taking the time to allow each coat to fully dry before proceeding to the next. Additionally, incorporating sanding between coats will contribute to achieving a smooth and flawless finish. Consistent maintenance and proper cleaning practices will also play a crucial role in preserving the quality and longevity of the finish.

By implementing these practices and nurturing a meticulous approach to wood finishing, you can elevate the overall aesthetic of your projects and ensure that they withstand the test of time.

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